Minigolf is played usually on 18 lanes, the length of which varies between 6 and 18 meters, and width between 0.80 and 1.25 meters (on open system up to 2 meters and more).
Four different course types have been approved for official tournaments: beton, eternite, felt and open system. (Eternite is hardened beton. In the past they used to produce it by mixing asbestos with beton, but nowadays the asbestos has been replaced by other materials.)
Felt is the most common course type in Scandinavia, while beton and eternite are more common in central and southern Europe. Open system courses are most common in Britain and United States.
Minigolf balls don’t have similar “pits” on their surface as golf balls have. In golf the uneven surface is needed to give the ball the best possible aerodynamic qualities. In minigolf aerodynamic qualities are not so essential, because the ball seldom flies in the air. Smooth and perfect contact with flat surfaces is more important for minigolf balls.
Minigolf balls are manufactured of PVC plastics or artificial rubber, and they are varnished with acryl or other kinds of lacquers.
If golf is played with one ball and several different clubs, in minigolf the setting is vice versa: the player has only one putter, but the ball to be used on a lane is picked from a selection of hundreds or even thousands of different options! The most important qualities of a ball are bounce height, hardness, and weight. Also the different surface treatments (lacquered, unlacquered, roughened) affect the way how a ball behaves on the lane. The diameter of balls varies between 37 and 43 mm.
On felt and open system courses one doesn’t usually need many balls. For a beginner it is enough to have one “all-round ball”, for example Nifo 2 (bounce 5 cm, hardness 60, weight 40 g). Later on the selection can be expanded with a Clicker, also called “Stone” (bounce 80 cm, hardness 100, weight 40 g), a ball of the type “3D M5” (20 cm, 60 hd, 40 g), and a ball of the type “3D M4” (14 cm, 60 hd, 40 g). With these five balls it is possible to win practically any tournament on felt or open system courses.
A greater selection of balls is necessary on eternite and beton, and it is not rare that someone uses eighteen balls on a round of eighteen lanes. Because of the great number of different balls and playing strategies, playing eternite or beton should be started together with experienced players.
An enthusiastic minigolfer may own several hundreds of balls, which are stored in special ball bags of roughly 100 balls each. A large ball selection is a benefit on eternite and beton, but on felt it is wise to keep the number of balls used on a round in the minimum, to maintain a delicate force touch to the balls and the weather conditions.
The balls needed on a round should be preserved in stable temperature, to avoid any unwanted surprises if the qualities of the balls change together with the temperature. There are special thermo-bags on the market, which isolate the balls from the temperature conditions around the bag. On hot weather the balls must be kept in the shade, and on extremely cold weather they need to be warmed in trouser pockets.
A competition player does not necessarily need to own more than three or four most commonly used balls. Special balls for each lane are circulated among the players in competitions, so that many players use the same ball. Borrowing and lending balls may feel irritating when practising, but this cooperation is very beneficial in tournaments, as you will be able to observe the behaviour of the ball while others play with it. This helps you to avoid such mistakes that a ball gets too cold or too hot in the bag while no one uses it for an hour or two.
When you buy a ball, always check that the ball is absolutely round. Minigolf shops sell roundness testers, and if you don’t happen to have one at hand when buying a ball, you can try to test the roundness by spinning the ball on the table like a top. A mis-shapen or eccentric ball shakes a bit while spinning. (It is possible that a ball is absolutely round but still eccentric, and thus unsuitable for tournament use on top-class level.)
A new lacquered ball usually has a small pin trace on its surface – the spot where the ball was held while it was varnished. When you buy a new ball, yuo can remove the pin trace with sandpaper or a needle file. Be careful not to harm the lacquer around the pin trace.
It is possible to “peel” a ball (remove the lacquer) with acetone, for example nail polish remover. It is also possible to get unlacquared or worn-out balls varnished in some minigolf shops.
Before you take your newly-bought balls to the local minigolf course, it is wise to mark your initials on them with a permanent marker. This makes recognizing your own property easier, so that your balls will not get mixed up with the playing equipment of other players.